With the beauty of the High Holidays still lingering in our souls, we awaken to the upcoming joy of Sukkot! There’s a hustle and bustle- buying lumber, gathering branches, and preparing festive foods to wow the eyes and gladden the hearts. We engage in the richness of our culture- some with joy, some with anxiety, and if we’re honest, most of us fall somewhere in between. But before we start assembling our sukkahs and overdosing on Pumpkin Spice Lattes to get us through, I’d like to beckon us back to the why of it all. Why do we labor? Why do we aim for beauty? Why do we stay awake late at night searching Pinterest for the best Sukkot ideas out there? By the way, have you seen my Sukkot board? It’s out of control!!
Why do we do it all? Is it merely to fulfill a commandment? Is it to showcase to the social media world that we have value as women? As beautifiers? As someone who brings worth to our families and communities? These are questions that I like to ask myself often, and when I forget, I have trustworthy friends that call me back to evaluate the source of my motives. I find that when my why is good, pure, and outward focused, the stress of preparation rolls off my back and I am able to abide in a place of perfect shalom. And if that shalom starts to dissipate, I stop, breathe, and find my why once again.
As shocking as this may sound, my why isn’t actually rooted in the commandment itself, but rather in the goal of the commandment. The High Holidays serve as circuit breaker for our idolatry, calling us to return to the LORD with all our hearts so we can be conduits of His glory. At Sukkot, we remember the frailty and majesty of our journey in temporary dwellings- primarily illustrated by the 40 year trek of our people through the wilderness, yet pointing us to the even bigger picture of our fleeting allotment of time here in this life.
If we pause to reflect on the theme of Sukkot- we pull out something stunning. Revelation 21:3b says
“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”
The passage goes on to describe how the imperfections of our world, caused by sin, are now gone! No more crying! No more pain! Just the majesty of God’s Kingdom resting upon us, and the security we have in our relationship with Him. The New Jerusalem descends from heaven as the ultimate Sukkah, and perfection enters every facet of this creation with the restoration of Eden. Just thinking about the width and depth of it all fills my mind with so much light I feel I could burst!
In the midst of this brilliant truth, I focus back on one word that keeps my why secure. It’s the word dwell. Revelation uses the Greek verb σκηνόω- skee-NOH-oo, linked to the Septuagint’s use of σκηνή skeh-NAY, the Greek word for Sukkah. It means to tent, encamp, occupy or reside. It paints the picture of belonging, slowing down, fellowshipping deeply, and growing in intimacy.
THIS is my why for Sukkot. From this why come all of my goals. For me, I want my sukkah to be safe, secure, inviting, and ultimately a place that you don’t want to leave. It’s minimalistic in structure, but rich in nature. The abundance of the soul is displayed on the table, beckoning our guests to sit, stay, and connect. The physical needs are met first in order to tend to the greater eternal needs of our souls and spirits. In essence, I get one whole week to practice the eternal joy we will have with God and each other in perfect communion. Every decoration I hang and every dish I prepare is rooted in the goal of deepening relationship.
With a large family, it also means I have to be resourceful in décor and food! One secret I have kept in my back pocket that has served me well year after year is going to thrift stores! One trip to Goodwill usually ensures all the materials I need to make a pretty sukkah. First, I look for dark material that I can use as a center accent wall- either in a large sheet or in fabric remnants. This provides a great background and a little bit of contrast to the sukkah, centering the focus on the inside. Then I look for large white sheets for the side walls. I double up here so that I can hang twinkle lights in between the sheet walls giving it that euphoric glowing beauty at night. The base of the schach (the roof made from branches) I leave to the guys of my family- which usually entails a trip down forgotten alleys in Phoenix with neglected palm trees desperate for a trim. There’s always a good story when they come back from their annual trip. And for the extra touch, I usually include branches that have movement and color for the front of the sukkah. This is something that works well for me, and might serve as a place of inspiration for you. However, each of us have our own unique styles and different expressions of beauty- all displaying our individual identities and sub-cultures. This is what makes the tapestry of our people captivating and charming.
As you move forward in preparation, I want to encourage you to find your why, and stay rooted in that truth as a source of peace. Let it strengthen your arms to accomplish your vision, and give you joy as your celebrate Sukkot! May your Sukkah be filled with the warmth of God’s presence, and the glory of wholehearted connection with those you love. Chag Sameach from my sukkah to yours!